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Judged by a harsh society, victims of leaked nudes tell of shattered lives


Power and emotional vulnerability are common features in sharing and leaking of intimate photos. [iStockphoto]

Kalmoi Shale Ahmed, a former assistant chief, today awaits sentencing over rape and distribution of pornographic material.

He was acquitted by the magistrate's court in 2021 but upon appeal by the Director of Public Prosecution, the High Court found him guilty on two counts; rape and spreading pornographic material.

His saga with an 18-year-old girl is an example of how intimate photos can be used as weapons of intimidation. He was convicted of raping the teenage girl following threats that he would post her intimate photos in their village WhatsApp group.

The victim narrated that Shale picked her on the way to school but he took her to an unknown room, fed her some substance and raped her. At the same time, she testified that he took her intimate photos using his mobile phone. He used the images to blackmail her for more rape incidents.

When she eventually mustered courage to decline his manipulation, Shale sent the photos online as the country was battling the Covid-19 pandemic, on May 21, 2020.

In court, Justice Abida Ali Aroni heard that the pictures went viral, prompting the teenager to vanish. She was contemplating suicide. Her relatives narrated that they avoided meeting other people due to shame the exposure had caused her.

In his defense, the former chief claimed that she was the one who had willingly shared the photos with her. According to Shale, he deleted the same as he did not know what to do with them.

Brought to book

The victim stated that apart from the threats issued to her, she feared Shale as he was an Assistant chief and therefore could not report the matter. It took her relatives to report to the police for the man to be brought to book.

"The court believes the testimony of the complainant that she was blackmailed by a person in authority and one who she respected and coerced into having sex with him. She consistently and clearly gave the same information of the nude pictures being taken by the respondent (Shale), and threats made to her by the respondent (Shale) using his position leading to the sexual encounter," Justice Aroni ruled.

Psychologist Benta Mwania says for one to leak nude images of someone known to them, there must be lack of emotional maturity or bitterness. She compares the situation to a toddler throwing a tantrum over something they want, yet they do not have time or the ability to think about the other party and how that action may affect them.

Ms Mwania also says that for such a thing to happen, it has everything to do with power and vulnerability. "It is also a power play; I hold you in my hands I can do anything I want," she sums the situation.

For others, she says, it might start off as a threat and since the other party does not want to lose, they get to a point where they release the photos since they thought that the person they were threatening would give in to their demands.

She says that weirdly for some of the perpetrators, the act may be a fetish for them, giving an unnatural type of pleasure that they cannot find somewhere else.

Everlyne Wanjiku, in her research published last year, equates revenge porn to 'cyber rape' adding that women, and children are the most vulnerable.

Ruined character

She argues that the motivation behind it is seen as a way of promoting entertainment. "The pain experienced by the victims is ignored," she said adding that those who do it think they are punishing the victims and injuring their characters.

Meanwhile, no data exists in the country on the number of victims of revenge porn. Janet (name changed) is another victim we managed to get from the Telegram channels. She works at a high-end hotel in Nairobi.

She narrated that a chance to study in college secured her future with good education but it destroyed her love life.

According to her, curiosity killed her cat. One night as she was talking to her boyfriend in their usual night talk, he asked her to send photos of herself. She instead shared intimate photos and videos.

Later their romance hit an iceberg since her career in the hospitality industry was taking much of her time. Her then-boyfriend could not understand why they could not talk like they used to, which led to a breakup. That was more than two years ago.

She moved on and even forgot that she shared the material with him until one day while at work her phone would not stop ringing with messages from new numbers. "I was at work, I got like 20 missed calls, 200 messages," she said.

When she opened one of the messages it was a warning telling her not to log onto her WhatsApp since she had been exposed. She said that curiosity got the better of her and she decided to check.

"I got like, I think it was 1,000 direct messages (known popularly as DMs) on WhatsApp," she recalled.

The messages were from men and women who were using local and international phone numbers and since she was at work, she resolved to check them keenly when her shift ended.

When she chatted with one of the women who had texted her, she was told that her nude material had been shared on a Telegram channel and her phone number.

"One number could call over 10 times, that is why I had to set my phone such that a call from a new number cannot connect," she said. She reached out to her ex-boyfriend and all he told her was that she got what she deserved and blocked her.

According to her, she would have denied that the photos and videos were hers, but she has a tattoo that sets her apart. "It is like an identifier," she says.

At the time her ex leaked the photos, she was in another relationship. When she informed the second man about it, he opted for a breakup.

She is glad her parents are old and do not know much about the internet and so may never find out about the leak. "I am glad they are just discovering Facebook now," she says.

She was contacted by a man who claimed that he could help her remove the material from the channel but she needed to part with Sh1,000.

The material had been shared on two groups one had more than 100,000 subscribers and the other had less than 2,000 subscribers.

Few subscribers

"I sent him Sh500 and he got them removed from the group with fewer subscribers, then I sent him the rest but they were never removed from the second one," she said.

After realising that she had been conned by the man, the urge to get them off the channel only grew deeper.

"I had not shared this material with any other random person, I sent them to a person I trusted," she said. The second person asked for Sh1,000 but to reassure her, he told her that he is a friend of the administrator of the channel and he could get him to remove them.

Jane said she told him to get the admin to remove them first before she could send the money but he never got back.

Janet would later reach out to the admin and negotiate to have them removed, but he asked for Sh5,000 for the service. She could not afford to pay up and he blocked her.

Another person reached out to her saying that he could send a link containing a virus to the channel that would make all the material shared there disappear but under one condition, she was to pay him with sex.

Janet said she asked him to make the group disappear first then maybe they could hold negotiations and that is how the man stopped talking to her. "Up to date I am just hoping nobody I know will see the stuff," she said.

The leak affected her in ways that she does not fully comprehend to date. She said the embarrassment is so much that even her closest friends do not know about it. "I felt violated, I felt angry and betrayed," she said resignedly.

It also affected her social life. She no longer goes out like she used to. She is afraid that strangers might link her to the material.

"I became an introvert, I stay indoors since that thing happened," she said. Janet remains in torment.

She looks forward to the days she will open up and be able to trust a man again to the point of falling in love. But Jane said that if any lover ever asks for photos of herself, that will be the end.

She never considered reporting the matter to the police because she did not have the time to follow up but also, she does not have that much faith in the authorities.

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